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COVID-19 "long-haulers" share stories of debilitating symptoms: "I will never be the same person"

Post-COVID care clinics help "long-haulers"
Post-COVID-19 clinics help "long-hauler" patients who exhibit symptoms months after infection 06:16

Kevin Rathel was hospitalized and placed in a medically induced coma after suffering from COVID-19 complications in April.

Months later, Rathel told CBS News senior medical correspondent, Dr. Tara Narula, that he still hasn't recovered from those complications.

"There's been a lot of memory loss. … being out of breath, a lot of fatigue, a lot of joint pain, things like that," he said.

He is not alone. Rathel is one of the estimated two million Covid-19 "long-haulers," survivors who months after being infected with the coronavirus are still experiencing debilitating and often crippling symptoms.

Michelle Sogge is another long-hauler who says she went from being a fit and healthy athlete to living with chronic muscle pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and brain fog.

"I actually could no longer live by myself anymore, the symptoms were so debilitating. I couldn't get up. I couldn't shower," she said.

Sogge is now a patient at UC Davis Health Post-COVID-19 Clinic. It is one of several new specialty care clinics emerging across the country that are specifically dedicated to treating long-hauler patients.

The hospital's patients get seen by the most appropriate staff based on their issues — something Sogge said can require multiple processes.

"Because COVID-19 is so unknown and it's affecting people in so many different ways, it is a multi-step, multi-disciplinary process," she said.

Dr. Margot Gage is an epidemiologist, mother of two and another long-hauler. She has a team of specialists working with her on her various issues including skin rashes, ringing in the ears and asthma.

She describes her headaches to be stronger than migraines and said that on bad days she cannot get out of bed. Her treatment plans vary based on which symptom she is experiencing at the time.

"We have our own mode of treatment and plan that we carry out. So it's very a one-to-one type of treatment modality, what I am undergoing," Gage said.

While their lingering symptoms may vary, many long-haulers share a similar message to those who doubt the seriousness of COVID-19.

"A lot of people do survive… But there are also a host of people who survive but are no longer the same," Gage said.

Dr. Virgina Witt works at an outpatient post-COVID-19 care facility in New Jersey. She said there is a dire need for the clinics because patients are suffering from serious medical conditions.

"We have patients who have obvious lung damage, scarring, ... some of them even need lung transplants for the long haul. Some patients are on dialysis. ... We have people with heart problems," Witt said.

Narciso Mondragon is one of Dr. Witt's patients being treated for damage to his lungs. He said prior to the diagnosis, he could work 16 hours a day, something he can no longer do.

"No matter how good, how better I get, I will never be the same person that I was," Rodriguez said.

Health issues like chronic fatigue and brain fog are some of the biggest issues being seen at post-COVID-19 clinics.

These are some of the symptoms COVID-19 survivor Alexander Hackett has experienced. She now sees a neurotherapist at the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia once a week. Since her diagnosis, she said her life has radically changed.

"That's why I want to share my story because I know that there are people out there, long-haulers, who are suffering from symptoms who are far more debilitating," Hackett said.

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